AF: You’ve never had a driver’s licence or driven a car. Yet, over the recent years of economic boom in China, it’s become a status symbol to move from having a bicycle to having an automobile. That obviously has a major tie to your work’s focus on the generational shifts in China brought on by the economic expansion. Is there some great irony here for you in approaching this project?
CF: Right now China is at a transitional point. Some people still prefer having a car because it’s a symbol of a certain social status. And some people prefer that a bike is free. It’s more environmentally friendly. I take a bike to the studio or take my kids somewhere on the back of it. It’s simple. There’s not this added burden. Before, we all thought you had to have a car, that it’s the best. In China, if you wanted to marry somebody, the guy had to own a house and a car. Now, it’s a transition to thinking about the future. It’s different.
AF: Do you think that will continue to change now that the economy isn’t growing as rapidly as it once was?
CF: I think it’s both that the Chinese economy is changing and that there is also more globalization. The younger generation thinks differently about having a big, expensive car and instead is trying to envision a new lifestyle or way of living. The car has a heavy symbolic meaning. It’s very related to the speedy economic development of China, something I’m particularly interested in. But it also has a relationship to industry and consumption.
In one of my films called Haze and Fog (2013), a car crashes into somebody on a bike. What’s happening now is that pedestrians, when they see a nice car, they sometimes intentionally rush into the road to get hit because they want the compensation from getting injured. In the film, after the pedestrian was hit by the car, the car owner came out and beat him up because he was afraid that the guy would ask for unreasonable compensation. There was no reason for the driver not to beat him up. As he’s getting beaten up, the pedestrian immediately turns into a zombie and walks away.
It reflects my observations on Chinese society’s high-speed development. It goes beyond the car itself. The car is just a symbol for many things that have taken place. What I’m most interested in is what happens after such high-speed development.
AF: Do you see any major shifts in society now that people have stepped out of this period of explosive growth?
CF: Now, the Chinese government is promoting an idea called the “new normal.” That refers to the normal speed that society is currently developing at. The government is trying to educate the public that it’s not normal for us to develop at such a high speed as has been the case before. What we have now is a normal speed of development which all other societies have as well.